Driving in Germany rules & requirements

By , 16 May 2024

4 mins read

Navigating the Autobahn: a guide to Germany’s famous motorways

Germany is famous for its rich history, delicious food, cultural events, and even its motorways.

The country's highways are renowned for their non-restrictive high-speed zones and unique characteristics.

While you may have already done your research on driving in Germany, it is always worth taking that extra bit of time to learn the rules of the Autobahn.

This can help you feel well-prepared and make driving on a road like this less daunting.

You can also eliminate any potential worries by taking out a car hire excess insurance policy.

Our hire car cover ensures that you are fully covered for any accidental damage caused to your vehicle, so you can continue to enjoy your travels stress-free.

To make sure you feel safe and confident when driving on these roads, we have put together a handy guide that covers everything you need to know about navigating the Autobahn.

What is the Autobahn?

Just like in the UK, Germany has motorways, which are referred to as ‘Autobahns.’

These are a network of highways that stretch throughout the country for 13,192km and connect all the major cities.

Autobahns are commonly associated with having no speed limits at all; however, this is not necessarily the case.

Contrary to belief, approximately 30% of German motorways do, in fact, have speed limits imposed.

Another key feature of these roads is that they can feature two, three, or four lanes in each direction, depending on when you are driving.

Where is the Autobahn in Germany?

This renowned network of motorways extends far and wide across Germany, including some of the country's must-visit destinations, such as Bavaria, Berlin, and the famous Black Forest.

How can I drive safely on the Autobahn?

Now that you know what the Autobahn in Germany is and some of its features, it is time to learn how you can travel along these roads safely.

You may notice some similarities between the motorway rules in Germany and the UK.

However, it is important to be aware that there are some laws and rules that may be very different from what you are used to.

So, it is essential for the safety of yourself and other drivers that you thoroughly understand the rules before you start driving.

How do I overtake?

Much like in many other European countries, you are required to drive on the right-hand side of the road, so overtaking must always be done on the left.

The only exception to this rule is when there is slow-moving traffic, in which case road users may overtake on the right.

Once you have passed a slower-moving vehicle, you must return to the right-hand lane as soon as it is safe to do so.

Do I still need to use my mirrors and signals?

Yes, just like driving in the UK and even in Italy and Spain, you will need to use signals to indicate your intentions to other drivers.

You will also still need to double-check your mirrors before carrying out a manoeuvre such as overtaking.

It is important to be extra vigilant when travelling along the Autobahn, as other road users will be travelling at higher speeds than you are used to, so it is vital that you are communicating effectively.

Is there a hard shoulder?

Just like many other European motorways, the Autobahn does feature a hard shoulder.

However, you should not use it unless signs indicate that you can.

Do I still need to give way to emergency vehicles?

All emergency vehicles have priority on the Autobahn, and just like when driving in the UK, they must be allowed to pass through traffic.

In Germany, road users are expected to create an emergency vehicle lane to prevent any obstructions.

For example, if you are driving on a German motorway with two lanes in each direction, you should move your hire car to the furthest right or left lane depending on your position and when it is safe to do so.

This then allows the middle lane to become clear for the emergency vehicle.

What are the Autobahn speed limits?

One of the most common misconceptions is that the Autobahn does not have speed limits.

This is the case for 70% of Germany’s famous highways, which does not impose restrictions for vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes.

If there is no sign indicating the required speed, then German law advises drivers to travel at the recommended speed of 130 kph.

However, if you are driving a heavier vehicle, it is important to look out for signs that indicate a new speed restriction is in place.

Otherwise, you could find yourself issued a hefty fine and points on your license.

Here is a general guideline for the speed limit sections you will come across on the Autobahn:

Speed Limit KPH Speed Limit MPH % of Autobahn
130kph 80mph 4.7%
120kph 70 mph 7.8%
100kph 60 mph 5.6%
80 kph 50 mph 2.3%
60 kph 40 mph 0.3%

Are there speed cameras?

While it may seem surprising, there are speed radars present on the Autobahn.

These are usually found in speed-restricted zones and in more accident-prone areas of the highway.

German law prohibits the use of any devices that can detect speed cameras or radars, such as your GPS system or Google Maps.

If you do need to use your GPS, you must turn this function off; otherwise, you may receive a fine, penalty points, or have your device confiscated.

What if I get lost?

If you find yourself lost on the Autobahn, the most important thing to do is not panic.

This can be very easy to do, especially when you are driving in unfamiliar territory.

When it is safe to do so, you should pull over to a safe location where you can consult your map or GPS system.

If you do not have access to either of these, it is best to follow the signs to the nearest petrol station or rest stop, where you can ask someone for directions.

Do I need to know anything else?

Now that you understand everything you should do when driving on Germany’s Autobahns, it is time to learn about what you should not do.

Here is a general guideline for what you should not do when travelling on the Autobahn:

Final thoughts

Experiencing Germany’s famous Autobahn is an exciting time that should be enjoyed!

While these motorways may seem intimidating at first, with that extra bit of research and preparation, you will soon see that there is nothing to fear.

So, all that is left to do is wish you a safe and memorable trip!

About the author

Jon spent years travelling Europe and Asia before settling down in the UK when he met his wife.

He’s hired cars across the globe and is passionate about helping people save money with excess insurance.

Since co-founding Reduce My Excess, Jon has found that he can use the knowledge he picked up from his travels by sharing it in online guides and articles.

He hopes to save people from making the mistakes he learnt from over the years by giving them the travel information they need before they head off on their holidays.